Feeding the Troops: Local Grain Supply on the Northern Frontier

Miller, Keith Baird (2000) Feeding the Troops: Local Grain Supply on the Northern Frontier. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The regular and reliable supply of food products must have been a matter of constant concern to the Roman army both when on campaign and when in garrison in occupied territory. Whilst much of this was meat, dairy products, wine, oil and vegetables the vast bulk consisted of grain. As most of the Roman army in Britain was stationed in the north of the country this is thought to have placed a considerable burden on an area hitherto considered relatively impoverished. However, the deployment of troops and the occupation of the forts north of the Tyne-Solway isthmus varied considerably through time. This variation in the numbers of soldiers deployed during the intermittent and often brief periods of occupation must have influenced the magnitude of the grain requirements at any one time. The nature of the late Iron Age economy and the local capacity to provide an adequate supply of grain has been much debated in recent years not least because of the generally poor survival of organic remains in northern soils. It has therefore, been generally assumed that the adverse climate meant the army was forced to obtain its grain supply by importing it from more fertile regions further south. However, extensive tracts of ploughing and field systems in the aerial photographic record and the ubiquity of quern stones recovered from excavations indicate that grain was an important part of the native economy. Furthermore, it seems likely that local supply was organised wherever possible in view of the high cost, low carrying capacity and relative slowness of overland transport in the ancient world. Greater awareness of the need for environmental sampling over the last twenty years has provided a corpus of new information to be scrutinised. The analyses of a number of charred and waterlogged seed assemblages from a range of indigenous native sites in the area between Hadrian's Wall and the Scottish Highlands, contemporary with the Roman occupation, are compared with assemblages from military sites to ascertain if local supply was possible. The predominance of barley at all of the sites examined suggests that this requirement was easily obtainable. Moreover it is contended that as well as feeding animals more barley was eaten by soldiers than hitherto acknowledged. It is also shown that wheat growing was more prevalent than previously supposed. Wheat was grown in the more favourable areas, in eastern districts where conditions of temperature and precipitation were more conducive. Emmer is the predominant wheat species in the north and occurs in proportionately greater quantity at northern forts implying a local source of supply. Spelt the most numerous wheat species found at Roman forts is only a minor crop on indigenous native settlements therefore, it is suggested that some supply from further south would have been necessary to fully meet the grain requirement of the army in all periods of occupation. Bread wheat the most often attested wheat species in the literary sources is recovered in such insignificant quantity in the first and second centuries AD that its importance is overestimated and it only becomes important in the later Roman Period. The siting of Roman forts is significant, though they are placed primarily for tactical reasons, concerning the control of movement along natural corridors, it seems to be no accident that they were also situated in more fertile regions. This indicates perhaps a deliberate concern to ensure that control was maintained over land that had the ability or potential to sustain Roman garrisons. The Roman impact on the northern part of Britain was limited, operating within a framework of continuity and gradual development. The evidence currently available indicates no discernible disruption or major change. Where changes did take place, they do so within a longer timescale and are thus difficult to attribute to the Roman presence. This is probably a consequence of the short duration and intermittent nature of the occupation north of the Tyne-Solway isthmus.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Jennifer Miller
Keywords: Archaeology, Military history
Date of Award: 2000
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2000-76126
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2019 09:15
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2019 09:15
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/76126

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